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Local author's book gives 'Voice' to Civil War veterans

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Soldiers' stories

What: Local author Margaret Hobson's new 422-page, hardback book, “The Voice of Indiana's 44th Regiment,” contains extended biographies of the officers, more than 250 photos of the men and transcripts of courts-martial proceedings for those who got in trouble.

When: Being published Friday

Where: Available on and from Hobson at 1-260-238-4645.

Cost: $32 list price, plus $5 shipping from Hobson

Monday, November 11, 2013 - 12:01 am

They talk of longing to return home, of the lack of food and supplies, and about the weather.

“They would beg for letters and newspapers,” author Margaret Hobson said. “Anyone who got a newspaper, I'm sure it was read by hundreds.”

The words of area Civil War soldiers echo from 150 years ago in Hobson's new book, “The Voice of Indiana's 44th Regiment,” which will be published Friday. The themes in their letters and journals ring familiar to military veterans and their families involved in U.S. wars from then through present day.

Hobson, who lives in Spencerville, became fascinated by the 44th Indiana Regiment while doing genealogical research on a relative, Lewis W. Griffith, who served in the 44th from August 1861 to September 1865. Most regiment members came from northeast Indiana and started their service by mustering at the former Camp Allen in Fort Wayne.

Hobson's first book on the regiment, “Indiana's Iron 44th, Part 1,” was self-published a year ago and serves as more of a resource book, with short biographies of the 2,012 men who served in the regiment during the war and other facts and figures about the unit.

A retired math teacher, she already is at work on a third book that will detail the regiment's record in battles such as Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Stones River and Chickamauga.

The book being released Friday delves deeper into the lives of the men who made up the 44th from the time President Abraham Lincoln called for troops on April 15, 1861, to the date of the regiment's first battle in February 1862, Hobson said.

She filled the 422 pages with extensive information about the 44th's officers, details about each of the 10 companies of men in the regiment and more than 250 photos of the companies and individuals in them, she said.

The last 100 pages of the book contain transcripts of courts-martial proceedings involving the men — including her relative. Hobson copied the transcripts during six week-long trips to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Hobson chose to self-publish this new book on the 44th Indiana because she worried a commercial publisher would try to change a significant amount of her content and also edit out a lot of what the men said.

“I have gotten so much strength,” she said of reading what the men went through and visiting the battlefields where they fought. “It is almost like they want their story told.”

She gave them a voice through the letters they wrote home, diaries some men kept, memoirs written by a soldier or his family, newspaper stories, and other documents.

The “mother lode” of material came from letters and other documents belonging to descendants of Col. Hugh B. Reed, one of her favorite members of the 44th.

“He was just honest and looked out for his men and didn't care about authority,” she said.

Though difficult for her to let some of the errors and coarse, racially degrading language stand, she chose to leave the soldiers' words as they wrote them. The only change involved capitalizing the start of new sentences because the men often didn't use periods.

Soldiers probably wrote most of their letters during down time between battles, Hobson said.

“I think they were lonesome,” she added.

Most didn't have money or postage stamps, so letters often arrived home stamped with a note of 3 cents postage due, she said.

They also were frugal with paper when writing home.

“Generally, it was one sheet of paper, and they would have it just filled,” Hobson said.

She enjoyed their humor and their discussion of religious experiences -- “a strong belief in God that he would see them through the battles.”

At the same time, they worried about some of their members' gambling or drinking, she said.

They also expressed shock after witnessing slave auctions in Hendersonville, Ky.

“They watched several of these slave auctions, and they were appalled people were treated so badly,” Hobson said.

But they followed the law at the time, she added, saying escaping slaves the 44th encountered had to be returned to the South.

“They were going down to save the Union,” she added. “They were not going down to free the slaves.”

Hobson believes there is great value in letting the men tell their story in their own words.

“I am not a historian. I wasn't there,” she said. “But the men were.”